If you chat at all with songwriters, the word “process” comes up a lot, and most competent songwriters will express the importance of having a good one. But here’s the problem: if you use the same basic procedure for all your songs — the same process — you’ll wind up with songs that all sound pretty much the same.
Songwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you how it’s done.
The problem with a songwriting process is that good music isn’t typically the product of a set of steps. In that regard, it’s not like building a house, where you need to build the foundation first, then the first floor, then the second floor, and so on. You can’t build the second floor if you haven’t built the first one.
Songs can come about that way, and if you’re trying to get your feet wet in the songwriting world, following a set of steps can be a help to you. But the world’s greatest songwriters don’t talk much about their “process”, except to say that they use a different one with every song.
So let’s take a moment to dig into what we usually mean by this seemingly important word “process.”
A Process Is Usually Just a Starting Point
You might be surprised to know that most good songwriters use the word “process” to indicate how they start the song, and not much else. “I use a chords-first process” means that they work out a short progression that sets the mood and style of the song — as a starting point.
From there, they may come up with a melodic bit, perhaps a hook that will serve as the basic chorus hook. Some words will usually happen at that point, but there’s not enough of a process defined to say what should happen, and in what order. They might have some verse ideas that will move their attention to that part of the song, but maybe not.
Why Your Process Isn’t Working For You
So that’s why you’re having problems with your songwriting process. Most of the time, a process simply indicates how you intend to start the writing of your song, but doesn’t give you a whole lot of anything else. So you start, let’s say, by strumming those few chords, but then you don’t know what to do next.
As I say, a songwriting process can be a series of steps, particularly useful to beginning songwriters. It’s why I’ve described possible songwriting processes in at least two of the songwriting eBooks in my songwriting bundle package: “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression”, and “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.”
The best songs come about by balancing the way you improvise ideas from one song element to the next; from one song section to the next. And feeling at ease with moving freely back and forth through your song as you put it together.
So perhaps you’ve written a poem that you’d like to set to music. Obviously, this is going to be a type of lyrics-first process, but what do you do next? You might be the kind of songwriter who needs to establish mood right away, so you’ll likely concentrate on chords, which offer so much in the defining of mood.
But maybe the way the words sound indicates a kind of melodic shape to you, and so perhaps you’ll get some melodic ideas happening. Once those ideas happen, the melody will likely imply the kinds of chords you use.
In any case, there’s no one right way to work, but there is a right way to think: when one musical idea causes you to imagine something else, go with it. There’s no one right way to move through the writing of a song.
And so perhaps that’s the process: knowing where you plan to start, but allowing yourself the freedom to move from one song element to another, from one section of your song to another, forwards, backwards, writing and rewriting as your ideas form and re-form.
In all of this, the best songwriters have a way of hearing the bits that they’ve written, and imagining what the finished song might sound like. Once the finished product starts to take shape, they have a way of pursuing it, and making it a reality.
Whatever process you choose for starting your song, the completion of the song becomes easier once you can imagine the finished product. In that regard, it shouldn’t surprise us at all that the best songwriters are the ones with the best imaginations.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process,” along with a Study Guide. Learn how to make the writing of a good lyric the starting point for your own songwriting method.